Here are a few recommendations of where and how to spend your time in Alaska.
Whether it's whitewater rafting in Denali National Park or taking in the views from a float plane, there is plenty of adventure to be found in Alaska. Take a look at a few of them here.
1. Get on the water.
The state is full of whitewater, and Denali National Park is one of the easiest places to access it. The north-flowing, glacier-fed Nenana River parallels the Parks Highway by the national park entrance, and operators typically run two trips on it: the mellow, scenic McKinley Run, and the faster Canyon Run, which includes several class III and IV rapids. You can raft the Canyon with Denali Raft Adventures ($89, 2 hours) — you’ll appreciate the supplied drysuit.
Fishing is another popular on-the-water activity. There are salmon in the rivers, trout in the lakes, and monster halibut and cod out at sea.
A wildife/glacier-viewing day cruise out of Seward is also enjoyable. The Alaska Native-owned Kenai Fjords Tours offers a few different routes, from four to nine hours. You’re likely to see sea otters, puffins, bald eagles, seals, sea lions, whales and maybe even a bear, along with the calving glaciers, rookery islands, and shoreline peaks of Resurrection Bay.
Rafting the Nenana River
2. Hike with a guide.
Alaska is a land of backcountry, settled by people who hiked out, found a piece of ground that looked good and built a family cabin on it. You can get a sense of the vastness of the land by going on your own backcountry trek. Denali is a good place for it — the National Park covers more than 2 million hectares and has relatively few established trails. There are endless opportunities for shorter hikes in southcentral and interior Alaska as well.
Regardless of how long you’re on the trail, it’s good to go with a guide. With a company like Alaska Nature Guides, you’ll be led by a local, someone who blazed their own trail and made a home in the bush. Their insights about the land, its history and its flora and fauna will add layers of meaning to a hike you won’t get otherwise.
ANG is one of few companies with Gold Level Certification in the Adventure Green Alaska program, which recognizes them as an industry leader in environmentally and culturally sustainable practices. They run guided hikes in Denali State Park (east of and adjacent to the National Park), as well as around Talkeetna Lakes Park, just outside of town.
View of Denali National Park
3. Fly to the mountains; climb if you can.
The Alaska Range defines the topography of the state, a crescent spine that curves from the southeastern border with Canada, up to just south of Fairbanks, and back down to the sea at the mouth of Cook Inlet. The section most people know and visit, though, is the area surrounding Denali, North America’s tallest peak at 6,193.5 meters, and its two neighbors, Foraker (5,303.5 meters) and Hunter (4,256.5 meters).
Catching the view is nice; one of the best places to do so is from the back deck area of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. But you get an entirely different perspective once you’re actually in the mountains, standing on a glacier, looking up and around at a jagged world of white. To do that, you need a plane. A handful of companies run “flightseeing” tours out of Talkeetna, K2 Aviation being the biggest. It’s also possible to fly in from the Denali area. Whoever you fly with, sign up for a glacier landing for the full effect.
This is also how climbers access the mountains. For information on climbing, check the National Park’s mountaineering resource page.
A float plane in Alaska
4. Stay at a boat/plane-accessed lodge.
Fox Island is a stop on two Kenai Fjords day cruises, but you can stay overnight at the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge. The property comprises eight cabins (each with capacity for a family of four) lined up between the rocky beach and the back tidal lagoon. Package overnight stays that feature a day cruise on departure day start are available. Kayaking and fishing trips are available at additional cost for overnighters; they’re part of the deal if you stay more than one night.
On the opposite side of the Kenai Peninsula, Tutka Bay Lodge has an even more remote feel to it, accessed by water taxi from the Homer Spit or sea plane. Tutka is one of the fjords cut into the southern side of the larger Kachemak Bay, and the entire area features snowy peaks and Sitka spruce-covered ridges that run right into the ocean. The lodge is set back on a beach opposite a small headland — you can’t see it until you’re almost on top of it. But once you’re there it’s quite expansive, with a massive central deck (with hot tub and sauna), and pathways that connect the main lodge building and six luxury cabins of varying size. The Eagle’s Nest Chalet (sleeps five) probably has the best view.
Rates start $1,300 per night and include three chef-prepared meals a day, a one-hour massage, wine tastings, yoga, and pretty much any guided activity you can think of — kayaking, hiking to glaciers, mountain biking, local fishing and boat trips, nature walks, and cooking classes.
A waterfront lodge in Alaska